Let’s step back for a moment and look at the IT world a bit differently from the traditional technology-centric lens through which most of us IT peeps tend to look at things. Line of business (LOBs) need us, the IT organizations, to deliver capabilities to their customers and users that deliver business value. They also rely on these systems to provide feedback on how customers and users are consuming the business capabilities and deriving value; how they are interacting the business systems; and what capabilities and features they need to get better value. The LOBs are asking the IT organizations to deliver these capabilities with:
- Cost Management
IT organizations, in most cases, are not designed for velocity, agility or innovation. They are large organizations hindered in their ability to deliver these by legacy systems, myriad practices and tools, overbearing governance and compliance regimes, archaic and siloed organizational structures and cultural inertia. This lack of ability of the IT organizations to deliver agility, velocity and innovation in some cases even results in LOBs creating their own “Shadow IT” organizations to deliver their IT needs.
Finding Velocity, Agility and Innovation
The solution of late has been to undergo a DevOps transformation that enables IT organizations to adopt the necessary practices, automation tools and organizational and cultural change to deliver with velocity and agility, and become innovative by being able to deliver rapid experimentation. The origins of DevOps lie in Lean IT, and adopting DevOps is really applying Lean principles to help achieve agility, velocity and innovation.
DevOps does so by making organizations that are delivering IT systems and software more efficient and lean. Organizations that have adopted DevOps are able to:
- Get ideas out to production faster
- Have users/user surrogates use them
- Get rapid feedback
Using this feedback the organizations can improve three things:
- Applications delivered
- The infrastructure delivered
- The process by which IT systems and software are delivered
However, large organizations have been struggling to achieve the results promised by DevOps and achieved by the poster children of DevOps, with whom the movement started. For every Netflix and Etsy out there, there is a large, complex, organization that has been struggling with simply where to start. They may be able to achieve success in some parts of their IT organization—with small, innovative ‘two pizza’ teams working on isolated projects—but not at enterprise scale. They struggle with how to achieve even the results of DevOps adoption they see in their own successful teams, at scale. The organizational and cultural inertia appears to be too difficult to overcome.
The major reason of this inability to achieve at scale is the persistent struggle in all large organizations between the desire to innovate, and the need for stability. This push-and-pull exists in all organizations—even an innovative startup feels it. The Dev teams are focused on creating innovation thru rapid change and experimentation, and the Ops teams are focused on creating stability and continuity. DevOps addresses this existential struggle by adopting a series of practices that drive cultural change, automation and process adoption that allow these Dev and Ops teams to work toward common goals and balance their needs. Even in large organizations, this can be achieved on small teams that are able to circumvent the legacy organizational structures and practices and figure out how to get all the stakeholders working toward common goals. That is why this works great on small, strategic projects that have well-defined goals and timelines and can “fly below the radar” of corporate governance enforcers. As we move to larger projects with large, potentially distributed teams, spread across different groups and corporate “fiefdoms,” adoption struggles and often fails.
The Rise of Multi-Speed IT
One fact these large organizations need to recognize is that they really must have two modes of delivering IT: one focused on innovation (and velocity and agility) and the other focused on optimization (stability and continuity, with agility and velocity). This view is being referred to in the industry as “bi-modal IT” and is actually more of a continuum than a clear-cut two modes model. Hence, the term is evolving now to “multi-speed IT.” However, classifying the continuum into two broad categories based on the business intents of innovation or optimization serves the purpose of determining how to adopt DevOps very well.
One interesting way to look at these two modes is to classify them as:
- The ‘Industrialized Core’ that delivers core business capabilities—things that keep the business going, and the primary business intent is optimization
- The ‘Innovation Edge’ where experimentation happens and new systems get identified and developed; in other words, the primary business intent is innovation
Innovation vs. Optimization
The goal of the Innovation Edge is to allow for rapid experimentation, development of minimum viable products (MVP), rapid delivery and fast failure. The goal of the Industrialized Core, on the other hand, is to be lean and efficient and deliver business capabilities in an optimized, predictable, stable and secure manner, with the ability to scale as needed. Note: Eventually systems from the Innovation Edge will need to be “industrialized” once they start serving a core business function. This is a continuum from innovation to optimization.
The Industrialized Core itself needs to be continuously incrementally industrialized to provide the stability and reliability needed, while getting leaner and more efficient, at scale. The core needs to get to optimization, with agility and velocity, as it delivers the core systems, again at scale. The core, too, needs to adopt DevOps and agile development practices, even for legacy systems, including those on the mainframe. This Industrialized Core is, after all, what keeps the business going and delivers the ongoing business value as the Innovation Edge seeks out new and disruptive business capabilities and avenues to deliver them.
However, they both need different DevOps approaches and platforms delivering Agility, Velocity and Innovation at different levels.
These two systems to deliver business capabilities are, in reality, joined at the hip. The systems delivered on the Innovation Edge are dependent on the services provided by the Industrialized Core to deliver the innovations they are developing. The Industrialized Core, on the other hand, consumes most of the budget in typical large organizations, and needs to be optimized to free resources for innovation.
Consider a typical mobile application (say, mobile banking). To deliver that application, there is a team charged with developing the mobile front end. These kind of applications are developed and delivered in the Innovation Edge. Does all of the data and business logic sit on your mobile phone when you use that application? Of course not. Most likely, the business logic and certainly the data are components of the application that are delivered by pre-existing systems or services in the Industrialized Core. So, the mobile application is hybrid, comprised of components running in both places. To deliver even some experimental features of this mobile app, the company needs to release a hybrid or composite application, delivering components delivered by both the Innovation Edge and the Industrialized Core.
During the Dev/Test cycle, these two modes of application delivery must be as decoupled as possible, so the development schedules and cycles of one does not drag the other, to prevent the Core from becoming a drag on the Innovation. Creating an API ecosystem is thus essential to decouple the Industrialized Core from the Innovation Edge. The Core provides the business services consumed by the innovative applications being delivered by the Innovation Edge as APIs. A key benefit of developing this API-based architecture is that these APIs potentially can be monetized to third-party partners, generating a revenue source at the same time.
It is important to note that the architectural and process needs for adopting DevOps in both of these modes are different in many ways. Their needs and how they deliver applications and services differ as they are serving different business goals. In my next post, I will start delving into these architectural and process needs for adopting DevOps for both the Innovation Edge and for the Industrialized Core, which allow the Innovative Edge to allow for experimentation and innovation, and for the Industrialized Core become more optimized.
Watch this discussion between industry practitioners as to how they have adopted DevOps in a multi-speed IT model: the challenges faced, successes achieved and lessons learned.
About the Author/ Sanjeev Sharma
Sanjeev Sharma, CTO and Distinguished Engineer – DevOps Technical Sales and Adoption, IBM Cloud Unit, is a 20-year veteran of the software industry with expertise in DevOps, Mobile Development and UX, Lean and Agile Transformation, Application Lifecycle Management and Software Supply Chains. He is a DevOps Thought Leader at IBM and speaks regularly at conferences. He has written several papers and is the author of the DevOps for Dummies book.